What metaphors and imagery does Nguyen Binh Khiem use in his poem "The Rich Eat Three Full Meals"?

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Kristen Lentz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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"The Rich Eat Three Full Meals" by Nguyen Binh Khiem, a Vietnamese poet and government official, is a poem about discovering peace, regardless of circumstance.  Khiem uses both metaphors and imagery to convey his over-arching theme of finding peace by appreciating the simpler things in life. 


The first line of Khiem's poem opens with a dramatic metaphor by measuring wealth and poverty in terms of how much a person has to eat each day. The comparison is stark and entirely realistic, forcing the reader to consider the reality of poverty.

Khiem also uses a metaphor in line six; "my damask, embroidered, the grass" compares sleeping on the grass to sleeping with a fine blanket.  Damask has a very rich, luxurious connotation. 


Lines three through five are full of imagery that engages the readers' senses.  By showing one feeling of the speaker such as "thirsty" and then satisfying that physical need with something rewarding like "sweet plum tea," Khiem creates a balance between deprivation and satisfaction (3). 

He continues this fine balance with the following line in which he feels "warm" and then cools off by deciding to "lie in the shade, in the breeze" (4).  Khiem's diction, especially "shade" and "breeze" create a very relaxed, peaceful tone.

Khiem uses visual imagery and metaphor in line five by comparing the beautiful vistas of the natural world to a painting.  The phrase "all around me" suggests that the speaker feels enveloped in nature, surrounded and protected in the beauty of "mountains and rivers" (5). 


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